David Goldwasser wrote to Lifelines for advice after being refused a mobile phone on his last trip to Japan.
“In November, I visited a Softbank store seeking to purchase a cell phone that could be used in Japan and in the rest of the world, including North America.
“I was told that only residents of Japan could purchase a phone.
“I return to Tokyo in June and am still seeking a phone.”
Obviously you need to show some form of identification to get a cell phone in Japan, and this is where nonresidents can come unstuck.
A major concern for the phone companies is whether, as a nonresident, you might skip the country. There have been numerous cases where people have signed up for a mobile phone service and then disappeared, leaving the providers with no way to collect unpaid bills.
If you provide some identification and offer to charge the cell-phone bills to a credit card, you should have no problem.
Currently there are four cell-phone bandwidths in common usage worldwide, so a “four-band” cell phone can be used virtually anywhere around the world.
Anywhere, that is, except Japan.
I have a special cell phone with a service that works in most countries around the world. I had no problem using it in China, Europe and even in Iraq.
However, I can’t use the service here in Japan.
The easiest way around this problem is to purchase an “unlocked” cell phone.
Mobile phones sold at Softbank and the other major providers are always “locked,” which means you are stuck with a particular service.
“Unlocked” cell phones let you replace the SIM card, or Subscriber Identification Module card, whenever you travel.
For example, when you are in Japan you put in a “Japan card” and when you are in Europe you replace the card with one for wherever you happen to be.
People who travel a lot often have a collection of SIM cards that they simply slot into their unlocked cell phones on arrival.
You can get more information on unlocked cell phones at www.wisegeek.com/what-are-unlocked-cell-phones.htm.
For a good discussion group on using unlocked telephones in or from Japan, go to forums.cnet.com/5208-7817-0.html;jsessionid=abcXQOdyKuJ4XhPGbmVhr?forumID=74&threadID=227967&messageID=2459455.
In Tokyo, you can get unlocked cell phones in the Akihabara district. It will take a bit of walking around in the back alleys but they can be found, or you can bring in a regular cell phone and they can “unlock” it for you for a fee.
The simplest way to ensure you can use your mobile phone anywhere in the world is to buy an unlocked cell phone and then replace the SIM card with a prepaid card whenever you travel.
At Narita airport there is a Nokia store that sells Japanese SIM cards.
Do any of our readers have anything to add on the subject of globe-trotting with a mobile phone?
Please drop us a line so we can pass the information on.